THE READERS HUB is pleased to bring to you another insightful and thrilling encounter as we engage one of Ghana’s finest poets and a spoken word artist extraordinaire who has performed on numerous occasions within the Ghanaian space and has won the admiration of many people.
Our guest it was, who displayed electrifying performance at the unveiling of the FIFA World Cup trophy at the State House in 2014. He also performed at the funeral of the late President, John Evans Atta Mills, etc.
He is also the writer and producer of the famous stage play “wogb3 j3k3” (The birth of a nation). This play gives a reenactment of Ghana’s history from ancient times to now.
With the help of one of our moderators -Haadi Bachang, our guest will take us through his life’s journey thus far, the factors that sparked his interest in poetry, as well as his stage plays in relation to his Bambu Centre that help promote arts, skills development, stage productions and performances.
Ladies and gentlemen, sit still as you enjoy this most informative and thrilling encounter.
Haadi: My name is Haadi Bachang, your Moderator for tonight’s Social Convo session with The Readers Hub-GH. With your indulgence, I welcome our guest for tonight Social Convo, popularly known in every corner as Chief Moomen. Good evening Chief and welcome to the Social Convo session of The Readers Hub-GH.
Chief Moomen: Thank You Mr. Bachang Haadi. It is a privileged to stand under the spotlight today of this great group. A very good evening to all the gentlemen and ladies here. I promise on my honour to respond to questions to the best of my ability.
Haadi: Who is Chief Moomen Please?
Chief Moomen: Well Chief Moomen is a poet, a playwright and a creative entrepreneur. I am also a Pan-Africanist as well as a socialist with capitalist taste. Just kiddingJ I believe the world is diverse for a reason, so I strive to accommodate and respect divergence in all of nature’s manifestations. I don’t think any people, culture or cilivilsation is inherently better than others. I also love good stories, good food, good women—and men. In fact, good people.
Haadi: Waoo! I think you like everything good. May we know your full name and why Chief Moomen? Are you a Chief?
Chief Moomen: My full name is Abdul Moomen Muslim. I got the Chief in T I Ahmadiya Secondary School, Kumasi. It all happened during one of our lessons at SS1 Literature class. The book to read was Marriage of Anansewa. The Teacher assigns the characters to each student in the class to read. Everyone is doing so in a disinterested manner and then it gets to my turn to read the character of Chief-Who-Is-Chief. I read it with such authority and verve that everyone in the class starts calling me Chief-Who-Is-Chief. In time we drop the Who-Is-Chief and so I became Chief Moomen.
Haadi: Interesting! Kindly walk us through your educational background.
Chief Moomen: Association International School to Adenta community for my basic education and then to T I Ahmadiyya SHS in Kumasi where I read Literature, Government and French. From there I went to the University of Ghana for a BA in English and Theatre Arts. I have recently just completed my course work at the Department of Communications Studies at the UG for an MA in communications.
Haadi: Impressive! Where is Chief from and any childhood memories to share with us?
Chief Moomen: Well I am from Wa in the Upper West Region although I was born in Accra. My childhood was quite eventful. There was never a dull moment growing up. My family was very large—siblings, aunties, uncles, cousins, distant relatives etc. all coming, staying and going. Our house at Kotobabi,a suburb of Accra,was—and still is—the unofficial headquarters of the Waala Community in Accra. Most social gatherings are held there. So, it is always full of live and activity. I guess that made me quite expressive from a very young age. I had a very exciting, adventurous and colourful childhood and I am very thankful for that.
Haadi: What do you do as a career and what inspired your choice of career?
Chief Moomen: Essentially, I write for a living. I write poems which I perform at all sorts of occasions for some not-too-meager remuneration. I also write plays which I stage with the hope of selling a lot of tickets to audiences and making a lot of money. But it has only been a hellish pit of debt!
Truth be told, I was never certain of an exact career path while in school. I knew what I liked and didn’t like. And I was always confident that I would find a way. For me what was always important in school was to remain active and apply myself to the things I liked—politics and literature. Interestingly, people who know me from JHS and SHS always thought I would end up in politics. My nick name in JHS was President Abdul. In SHS I became Senior Prefect and Regional SRC President. And at the University, I was very politically active.
I had also started doing spoken word performances in the University. I had an opportunity to perform at a show where KSM was present. He invited me to his Thank God It’s Friday programme on Metro TV for an interview and a performance. I put my number out and calls started coming in. And that is how my career as a performing poet started. I pushed the politics aside and went full speed on my artistic career. And have never looked back since.
Haadi: Marvelous! What keeps you awake at night and how does the next five years look like for you?
Chief Moomen: Oh dear! So many things keep me awake at night—literally. My mind is a battlefield of ideas rioting to break free. My heart is an exploding volcano of molten passion. I am indeed a young man in a furious hurry. Let me just simply state that I believe the mission—with regards to my artistic career—God has given me in this world is to tell Ghanaian and African stories through theatre, film and publications in ways that elevate the confidence and consciousness of the African.
Chief Moomen: Within the next five years I plan to stage the World’s biggest theatre production with a thousand performers on stage about—supposedly—the wealthiest man to have ever lived, Mansa Musa. The production would serve as a window into Ancient West Africa and would be an extravagant, spectacular and bombastic celebration of West African Culture.
Haadi: Wow! We wish you all the best in this and we pray to live to witness this day.
Chief Moomen: We pray so my brother. Last year while in London, I went to see the Lion King Productions which has been staging for the past 20 years and has grossed over 8 billion dollars in the box office. Now the interesting thing about this production is that it is all about Africa—the music, dance, costumes etc. It is a story set in Africa that has become the biggest and most profitable theatre productions in the world. For the over two hours I sat watching the production, all I could think of was that I CAN DO THIS AND EVEN BETTER!
Haadi: In Shaa Allah (By god’s grace)
Chief Moomen: Going forward, I think the next frontier for exploitation in Africa is our heritage. Just like how the West has for centuries exploited our natural resources; they have now shifted their focus to our culture. And it is already happening. If African artists and producers do not take it upon ourselves to begin to tell our own stories in the best of ways, others will do it for us and reap the profit.
Therefore, I intend to be a powerful force in telling our African stories both at home and abroad and to make some good money while doing that which I would invest in developing our cultural scene.
Haadi: Wow! Tell us about the famous play, wogb3j3ke, I believe sets the platform for achieving the above passionate ambitions
Chief Moomen: WogbeJeke was my attempt to re-enact the history of Ghana from ancient to modern times through a series of spectacular plays. I wanted to thrill Ghanaian audiences with a theatrical experience they had yet to witness. With my team of 150 plus cast and crew made up of actors, dancers, a choir and instrumentalists, we are set out to do just that.
Our first play was WogbeJeke: The Birth of a Nation which told the pre-colonial story of Ghana-mostly about the migration and settlement of major ethnic groups. Our second play, WogbeJeke: The Tale of Two Men told the story of Ghana’s colonial history and struggle for independence through the perspectives of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Dr. JB Danquah. Our third play, WogbeJeke: The Rise of a Nation focused on Ghana from independence into the forth republic. In 2017, we put all the three plays together in one mammoth production, WogbeJeke: Our Journey, to celebrate Ghana’s 60th Anniversary. We run our productions from 2015 to 2018. I took last year off my busy schedules to regain my sanity because it was a crazy ride.
QUESTIONS TIME WITH OUR READERS FROM (THE READERS HUB-GH)
Ing. Karim: Any plans of doing wogb3j3ke again? I and my wife really enjoyed it and she has been asking of it since.
Chief Moomen: Yes. This year would have been our 5th anniversary and we were hoping to stage it but, unfortunately, Covid-19 has derailed our plans. So, for now, we are pushing everything to 2021.
Haadi: Can we get copies to buy since not all of us had the opportunity to watch the live stage play?
Chief Moomen: Stage plays are best experienced live! Hopefully we would be coming to a venue near you after Covid-19.
Haadi: You are the founder of Bambu Centre– a creative hub established to nurture creative skills and business. Tell us more about the Bambu Centre and its success stories and challenges so far.
Chief Moomen: Bambu Center is the name of my production company but it is also a physical space. Early 2017 we acquired a really cool building which we were planning to turn into a hub for artists—mainly in the digital and performing arts. We had invested in leasing the space and we were then going to invest in putting in the right equipment and other resources. It was around the same time I was commissioned to stage WogbeJeke for Ghana @ 60.
Unfortunately, we run into some problems with the committee and they refused to pay us our balance outstanding. I spent half the year chasing the money meanwhile I had to pay off my suppliers. Long story short, 2017 was terrible year for me. Took on too much debt and couldn’t execute the true vision for the center.
So, the incubation bit of my work is on hold for now although we do a few things. In partnership with some Ghanaian collaborators and one German organization we have been holding sessions for young writers. Currently working on an anthology. Hopefully, when I make some money, I would certainly invest in the hub idea.
Haadi: Best wishes in your endeavors.
Chief Moomen: Thank you my brother.
Dr Stanley Asasu: Do you do collaborations with other artistes? Does your outfit consider staging plays by other playwright other than yourself?
Chief Moomen: I have a team of 20 directors made of choreographers, composers, costume designers, drama directors (in the traditional sense) among others. So, my work is really collaborative. Of course, all the plays we have staged so far are written by me.
However, going forward, I actually plan to stage plays by other writers. Let me just say this. I have been working hard in the background with a new strategy. If it works, we would have our own space and good funding to produce plays. I am actually quite passionate about producing works by other writers. Let me add that I don’t even direct my own plays. I just write and produce. WogbeJeke, for instance, was directed by Abdul Karim Hakib and the legendary Ghanaian thespian, Anima Misa Amoah.
Anonymous: What are you doing to mentor young performers (poets and Spoken word artists)?
Chief Moomen: Interesting question. My view of mentorship is really observing from a distance. Personally, the works of most of my mentors inspire me; so, to speak. Or just being within their presence, I learn. In the same way I know just by the work I am doing it inspires a lot of people.
I meet a lot of younger ones who say they got into spoken word because of me. When anyone reaches out—which they often do—I try my best to share some ideas. Often, I get invited to give talks at schools and other youth platforms so I do that too. Apart from that, I don’t think I am doing anything extra-ordinary to mentor others. In a way, I feel that I am yet to achieve what i really want to. So, I really don’t see myself as accomplished enough to take others under my wings. I think I would do more when I get there.
Lawyer Hammer: When are you coming home to Upper West with all these beautiful and intellectually stimulating works?
Chief Moomen: Every year I come to the region a number of times. But it’s true I’m yet to stage a show there. In 2018 we took WogbeJeke to Tamale with over a 100 casts and crew. Spent an over of Gh₵150,000 to produce the show and we didn’t even sell up to Gh₵5000.00 in ticketsJ. What I think I can do is to great smaller less expensive productions I can take around. As the capacity of my production house increases, I should be able to do more tours including to the Upper West.
Akram: Considering your in-depth knowledge of the Ghanaian socio-political history and your ability in putting pictures to writing, do you have plans to write a play for Senior High Schools in Ghana? I guess it would be a read to enjoy just like The Marriage of Anansewaa.
Chief Moomen: hahaha. Well I guess I am already on course. The WogbeJeke script is quite rich for such a purpose. I just have to adopt it for publication. In fact, my primary audience are the youth so all my plays are family friendly and produced in such a way that even children would understand and enjoy. I am always so happy and fulfilled when I see children in the audience. In October 2018 i did a whole show for school children. Went from school to school addressing students at assemblies to come and watch the play at the University of Ghana. Some schools turned up and it was encouraging.
Bassing Kamal: What is Poetry?
Chief Moomen: Poetry is feeling. It’s an expression of ideas and emotions through the beauty and melody of words. Poetry is like a sweet breeze; you can’t quite grasp what it is but you can feel its sensation. Poetry is all sense and nonsense.
Anonymous: Why haven’t you been contributing to our Poetic Thread session with The Readers Hub since we started, considering the vast experience you have as a poet?
Chief Moomen: I have no excuse or defence. Let’s just say, first of all, I am unable to keep up in the group. Too much happens here. Secondly, I just don’t have the habit of sharing works anywhere, really—on social media or the many other writers’ groups I belong to. Interestingly, I am always writing. I write for a living and at any point there is always something on my desk. I guess it boils down to focus. But let me confess here as I have to my other colleagues that, with the exception of my plays, I hardly right anything for myself these days. Everything i write is commissioned. So, if i am not making money, the incentive to write is not there. I need to change.
Hakeem A. Tahiru: Which aspects of Ghanaian culture and tradition do you promote or seek to promote with the great works of Bambu Centre and do you think Ghana has an internationally competitive and exportable culture?
Chief Moomen: hmmm…interesting. Let me start from bottom up. Yes, we have a great culture that we can package and sell to ourselves and the world. Our music, dance, clothes, stories etc. is a treasure trove! It is all about how we present it. That’s part of what I seek to do.
I believe that, in a way, people easily fall for trends. For instance, some years back it was not fashionable for young people to wear African prints. But when people like Shirley Frimpong Manso started using African Prints for beautiful costumes in our films, it suddenly became trendy and all over the place.
That’s the power of the arts. I strongly believe that THE ARTS MUST NOT ONLY SHOW PEOPLE WHO THEY ARE BUT WHAT THEY CAN BE, and it is that aspirational quality of the arts that ascribe to. For instance, if we want more people to stop skin bleach or to wear more natural hair, we could do that simply through our music and films and theatre. Arts is a propaganda tool if used wisely, can transform a people or society.
The African spirit is somewhat broken and it is the responsibility of the African artist to mend it together. To this end, I would say, yes…our culture can sell! We just have to present it the right way.
Samad Danaa: Your ambition is a great one and it is inspiring to gauge how you intend to use our culture to tell our stories and push some consciousness into us. The creative arts industry has had its fair share of challenges. Governments have not been so outgoing in terms of major blue prints towards making the creative arts industry more buoyant. In what ways do you think government can help put our creative art industry on the world stage and how can we concretize and institutionalize these interventions to transcend regimes?
Chief Moomen: Our governments in Africa are constrained by their own ineptitude or lack of foresight or even the prevailing politics of the country. Governments alone would really not transform Africa in the progressive ways we seek. So, I have come to believe in the power of the individual. A few people must lead change and transform societies and hope that our governments would catch up. Of course, those few change leaders should also find their ways into government.
Maybe that is the way of the world. If you look at all great inventions and artistic endeavors, they had serious patrons behind them. And these are the undertakings that invariably pushed the frontiers of civilization. A rich man or woman in Ghana with right combination of vision, foresight and empathy can transform a lot of things.
Our system is broken and corrupt; you can easily get things done if you can pay your way through. If we have people who can pay their way through into creating national progress, we can make headway. Sorry i know i sound all philosophical and may not have tackled your question head-on, but somewhere in there is my answer.
Hanif Bipuah: What is your greatest fear?
Chief Moomen: hah…For a long time I couldn’t tell what my greatest fear was. I lived my life like a big engine on a highway speeding towards a destination. My focus is and has always been to fulfill my life’s mission. It’s a question I hardly think about… hmmm…. maybe DEATH before I achieve what I hope to.
Bagura Shamuddeen: What is your perspective on Africans’ response to African poetry? I asked because you made mentioned of the Lion King production in London, I am of the view that it was a success because of the European response to poetry and not duly on the poetry. If it was to be hosted in Africa the response would have been otherwise. Do you think Africa is ready for a similar production?
Chief Moomen: The first part of the question is a bit confusing. Also, Lion King is a theatre production. But I get the last part of the question. Let me just say nobody is ready until you make them ready. That’s the thing about innovation. Nobody knew they needed an I-Phone until they were introduced to it. I have been trying to gather a couple of million dollars for a production and this question comes up all the time about whether the Ghanaian market is ready for such an investment, especially when all my productions thus far have all run into debts.
The above notwithstanding, I am convinced that with the right product and the right marketing it would make business sense. So, in one of my pitches, I have requested for 3 million dollars. And I tell them all i need is 100,000 audiences out of a 30 million populations to pay an average of 30 dollars each to watch my show for me to break even. Most people think we can’t get the numbers even with the right product and marketing. I tell them I believe we can. So, I guess we would never know unless we actually give it a try.
Strongman (Tahiru): Indecent dressing and exposure has almost drained us off our morality. All over the streets, our younger brothers and sisters walk in their nakedness “wearing away their humanity in driblets” (Lest we should be last – Kwesi Brew). How do you intend to use your artistic power to preach a change in this trend?
Chief Moomen: hmmm… I don’t know for now…it hasn’t been a major concern in my work and I’m not sure it will ever be. I guess there are so many issues in our society an artist must always choose what to focus on.
Haadi: Would you do anything differently if you could turn back the hands of time?
Chief Moomen: I have asked myself this a number of times. I guess there are some everyday choices you make in life that, maybe, you shouldn’t have made them on hindsight. But I feel that generally every major turn in life we take leads to our destiny. So, in the bigger questions of life I don’t think I would do anything that much differently. But on the smaller questions, I am sure there are a lot.
Haadi: You were the recipient of the 2015 Excellence Leadership Award’s Young Achiever for Arts, Culture and Entertainment and also the 2017 Coca Cola Big Six Young Achiever in Media and Entertainment. Tell us about these awards, and any other awards, and what they mean to you please
Chief Moomen: It’s just normal- nothing fancy. Usually I get invitations to nominate myself or to campaign for some awards etc. I usually don’t do that. Recently I was alerted to the fact that my name was part of a list for the Millennium Excellence award and I had to do something or so but i didn’t bother. I don’t think I am deserving of that award yet. I feel I have so much yet to accomplish; so, I hardly ever get excited about awards at this stage. But make no mistake; a time is coming when I will make time to collect a lot of them to boast to my children inshallah (By God’s grace)
Haadi: It’s been a wonderful time with you, Chief. The questions are so many that we can’t take all and we have already exceeded the time allotted for this session. I sincerely apologize to all those that we may not be able to take their questions. Now chief, any last comment for our Readers?
Chief Moomen: If there is anything, I would want to leave with members here…well just see what you can gleam from what I going to write: I am always fascinated when people talk about haters or those conspiring to pull others down. For me I don’t see haters. Maybe I am naive. But I am so focused on my dreams that I hardly have the presence of mind to contemplate what others are doing or thinking. I think that sometimes we tend to give people and situations too much power over us. The downside to leaving life my way is that you can become too trusting because you are really not thinking others mean you harm. I guess it’s all about balance. Anyway, there is this line from song by Manifest that sums up my approach in working towards my vision: (Translated form Twi) When you are sent to kill an elephant, don’t go wasting your time with a rat lest you unnecessarily get yourself hurt.
Haadi: It’s been an interesting Session with Chief Moomen and we have to end the session at this juncture since time is far spent. Thank you so much Chief Moomen and we pray with you to use your works as a powerful tool to sell the country’s heritage tourism potential to the rest of the world, which we believe you can do. We wish you all the best that life entails in all your endeavors
Now to our Readers, this is all that time will allow us and thank you all for your time, questions and contributions. My name is Haadi Bachang and I sat in for Alima Bawah, your regular host for this session.
Before I go, let me remind members that the page is exactly 3 months today and a READER has written an article worth reading by all. (https://thereadershub.org/the-readers-hub-gh-a-dawn-of-generational-thinkers/) Let’s read it and READERS are also entreated to visit our website (www.thereadershub.org) to catch up with all our activities
Until we meet next time, goodnight to you all. (Exit….)
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Hub Editor: Bassing. A.M.A. Kamal.